CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- The Tax Assistance Center held its grand opening for the season Monday at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE, Belgium. The event signified the beginning of this year's federal and state income tax preparation and filing process for U.S. personnel.

The office, which is run by the Northern Law Center, provides free tax preparation services by Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, certified personnel to active-duty service members, family members, retirees and Department of Defense civilian employees. DOD contractors are also eligible if legal services are stated in their employment contract.

"During the 2017 tax season, the Northern Law Center's Tax Assistance Office generated 535 federal and 206 state income tax returns in the U.S. SHAPE/NATO, Chièvres Air Base, and USAG Brussels communities, resulting in over $1,308,171 in tax refunds and savings for clients of over $184,716 in tax preparation fees," said Army Maj. Joseph H. Wheeler III, the officer-in-charge at the Northern Law Center.

The center is located in SHAPE Bldg. 318, Room 207, and opens Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. Services are by appointment only.

The tax assistance services will be provided on an appointment-only basis. Walk-ins are not allowed this year in order to ensure that each client receives timely and professional service, according to Army Capt. Bernard Marshall, chief of client services at the Northern Law Center.

Services are also by-appointment only in Brussels. Services at Chièvres Air Base will be announced soon. In the Netherlands, tax assistance services will be provided by the Netherlands Law Center starting Feb. 6.

According to Marshall, filing tax returns with the center's tax clerks is more advantageous than using online tax-filing services. The tax clerks understand common tax situations with U.S. personnel living overseas, such as moving expenses, foreign tax credits and rental property incomes in addition to other circumstances.

"There are a lot of expenses that military personnel can claim and situations that are unique to military members that develop [when identifying credits and deductions on tax returns]," he said.

"People need to break down every source of income and bring all necessary documentation to their appointment. They can have a conversation with the tax clerks and I beforehand. We can give them a clear answer on how the IRS will treat those sources of income."

In addition, people will need to bring the social security cards for each person claimed in their return. More information on documentation needed for the appointment is located at www.usagbenelux.eur.army.mil/org-legal.html.

In the U.S., the deadline for tax returns this year is April 17. U.S. citizens, however, living overseas have an automatic two-month extension, making June 15 the final deadline to file returns. People who are unable to meet the June 15 deadline will need to request an additional extension for Oct. 15 by submitting a Form 4868 to the IRS. If an individual files their return after April 17 and owes money to the IRS, as opposed to getting a refund, the individual may incur interest on the amount owed between April 17 and the date that they filed the return, said Marshall.

The Tax Assistance Center is scheduled to be open at SHAPE until June 25.

To book an appointment for the SHAPE and Brussels services, call Northern Law Center at DSN 423-4868 or +32 (0)65-444868 during regular business hours. For services in the Netherlands, call the Netherlands Law Center, at DSN 360-7688 or +31 (0)46-4437688.